Monday, July 16, 2012

The First Post: In which the author expounds a bit on Regieoper

Welcome, dear reader(s), to my little opera blog. (As if the world is crying out for more opera blogs -- just like Washington, DC needs more chamber choirs!)
Recently, I have become frustrated by what seems to be almost willful misunderstanding (and therefore, dislike and rejection) of what is known as Regieoper. (There is another term, which will only ever appear ONCE in this blog, but you'll have to wait for the next post to read it.)
Instead of hijacking other people's blogs (sorry, Earworm*!) or wearing myself out trying to reply individually to each and every review and comment on the entire World-Wide Web, I decided to pitch my tent in my own little corner of the blogosphere. So here it is: Regie, or Not Regie?
It seems there is often a fine line between Regieoper and simply a thoughtful and/or updated staging. Sometimes it’s glaringly obvious (the M22 Entführung**) other times it seems more subtle (2005 Cosi in Zurich with Malin Hartelius).
At it's worst, Regieoper is just plain weird, creepy, and/or bad, and willfully contradicts the original work for no apparent reason. At it's best, Regieoper productions can shed new light on an old plot, and bring out nuances previously unrealized.
At Dolmetsch Online, one can find the following description:
(German - in English, 'director's opera' or, more commonly, 'producer's opera') also termed Regieoper, a term that refers to the modern (essentially post-WWII) practice of allowing a 'director' or 'producer' such freedom in devising the way a given opera is staged that not only may the composer's specific stage directions (where supplied) be completely disregarded, but also major elements of geographical location, chronological situation, casting and plot.
Admittedly, that's pretty dry. Joy H. Callico says Regieoper is "a radical staging of a canonical opera, either non-literal or extremely literal in interpretation."***  I would add that most I have seen are non-literal.
I believe that if you can accept the fact that Violetta or Mimi is dying of consumption and still belting out all those awesome high notes, then you should be able to accept a big clock and a red sofa in place of a luxurious ballroom, or a big café table with giant postcards in place of a perfectly down-to-the-last-detail reproduced Paris garret. Instead of dismissing it out of hand, maybe one might stop and think. “Why a big clock instead of a big staircase?” or, “Why a postcard wall instead of a perfect replica of an attic?”****

La Boheme in Bregenz

 I belive good Regieoper:
  • Forces the singers act (no “Park and Bark” in regie!)
  • Allows the audience to focus on the singers instead of on the set (Decker Traviata vs. Zefferelli Traviata)
  • Makes the audience think beyond the pretty singing ("Why is there a big clock there? vs. "Nice staircase!")
  • [Add your favorite Regieoper attribute here]

For a bit more elaboration on Regieoper, I share two blog posts from the Guardian (UK): one against Regieoper (almost psychotically so) and one for, (in response to the naysayer.) 
In my next post, I will lay a few ground rules for myself, which I probably will immediately violate.  See you then!

*A wonderful blog. I highly recommend it.

** Actually, Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio seems to fall victim to be taken up for Regie productions quite frequently.
*** Joy H. Callico, The Legacy of GDR Directors on the Post-Wende Opera Stage… in the book Art Outside the Lines.
****All that being said, I have nothing against beautiful, lavish, opulent sets and literal presentations. I just think there can be more than one way to present a classic opera.


  1. For rabid denunciations of anything bordering on Regie or, indeed, the slightest deviation from what the reviewer sees as the "composer's original intention" Arthur Kaptainis in the National Post is always good for a laugh.

    For myself, I judge purely by whether a production is enjoyable and/or gives me a deeper understanding of the work so Decker's Traviata I approve for sure, Kusej's Rusalka would be a qualified yes (rather falls apart in the 3rd act) while Zhang Huan's Semele would fall in the category of unhelpful directorial self indulgence.

    1. I will have to check out Mr. Kaptainis. Thanks for the tip!

      My Dad has been "selling" the Decker Traviata to his cohorts.(Many of them attend the Met theatrical broadcasts.) He is surprisingly hip for 89 and has managed to help others seel the light in that production. (He sang Dr. Grenvil in a local opera society production years ago and I think he wishes his part had been as interesting as "Dr. Death"!)


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